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These spots merit some hang time even if you don't stay for the food

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Best spots for $2 Guinness pints, judgment-free dancing, White Sox sightings, and more

GOLD COAST / OLD TOWN

BERNARD’S BAR The Gold Coast’s newest haute hangout, on the second floor of the Elysian hotel, hits all the high notes: plush décor; noise and lighting levels tuned for easy conversation; bartenders mixing the classics with care. Elegant touches like drinks delivered on white linen coasters and charcoal sketches of sensual nudes add to the grown-up allure. Folks from the neighborhood claim leather chairs and sip sidecars alongside dressed-up out-of-towners. 11 E. Walton St.; 312-646-1300, elysianhotels.com

THE DRAWING ROOM AT LE PASSAGE The Gold Coast club Le Passage still draws nightlifers down its Rush Street alley for drinks and dancing into the wee hours, but our loyalties have shifted to the attached lounge. Bartend– ers put as much love as any chef into their impeccable culinary cocktails, and the velvet chairs and sparkling chandeliers lend a sophisticated but welcoming vibe. 937 N. Rush St.; 312-266-2694, thedrchicago.com food available | open late (4 a.m. Sat.)

LE BAR Special touches such as cheese skewers served with each glass of wine and his and hers cocktail options make every patron feel like a VIP at this contemporary bar in the Sofitel. People-watching is prime out the street-level windows, and a showpiece absinthe fountain makes a statement when delivered by request to any table. The blazing fireplace and rich color palette make this a restorative postshopping destination. 20 E. Chestnut St.; 312-324-4000, cafedesarchitectes.com/le_bar food available

OLD TOWN SOCIAL At this sprawling self-proclaimed “sporting parlor” in Old Town, antiques and antlers provide the backdrop for 20- and 30-something scenesters clinking glasses over plates of cheeses and cured meats. A line forms down the block on weekends, and the decibels rise by the hour. If romance is your goal, come early and snag a curtained booth for two. 455 W. North Ave.; 312-266-2277, oldtownsocial.com food available

LINCOLN PARK

DELILAH’S A cross between a biker bar and a two-story haunted house, Delilah’s is one of the least cookie-cutter spots in the city—an anomaly for Lincoln Park. Locals watch English Premier League soccer; liquor geeks fawn over the high-end whiskey selection; and the creepy paintings could scare small children. The bar hosts a different event almost daily: a Monday special of punk rock and $1 American beers, for example, or the screening of a 1970s cult flick. 2771 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-472-2771, delilahschicago.com dj

THE GALWAY ARMS ”Authentic” pubs are a dime a dozen in Chicago, but this is the rare spot that actually feels like a cozy tavern in the Irish countryside. A short walk from the heart of Lincoln Park, the Galway was carved out of two 90-year-old buildings on Clark Street, and the lived-in, weathered feel remains. With its two fireplaces, creaky floors, and dimly lit rooms, this is just the spot to ward off a winter chill. 2442 N. Clark St.; 773-472-5555, galwayarms.com food available | outdoor seating | live music

LOCAL OPTION Don’t let the DePaul locale fool you: This is no college bar. The Lop, as regulars call it, doesn’t even serve light beer. “Not because we’re jerks,” says Tony Russomanno, the owner. “Our goal is to build better beer nerds.” The bar rotates about 10 of its 25 taps every week (about 280 drafts showed up on the chalkboard menu last year) and keeps about 100 varieties in the cooler. As bar grub goes, the foodis stellar (we love the fish tacos and homemade chips and guac). 1102 W. Webster Ave.; 773-348-2008 food available

WEBSTER WINE BAR Imbibe knowledge along with your vino at Chicago’s self-proclaimed oldest wine bar. The menu includes lengthy descriptions of the month’s featured varietals or region, as well as by-the-glass options (wine tastings and classes are also available). The setting is comfy, casual, and candlelit—perfect for a date but relaxed enough for a group of friends. 1480 W. Webster Ave.; 773-868-0608, websterwinebar.com food available | outdoor seating

LAKE VIEW / BOYSTOWN

404 WINE BAR We know the proper name is Jack’s Bar & Grill/404 Wine Bar. But if we were in charge, we’d seal off the common room that connects 404 to its fratty sidekick. A serene neighborhood spot with about 100 wines by the glass and bottle, 404 also offers an impressive menu (we love the cheese selection). In winter, clink glasses by the fire in a living-room-like setting. In summer, claim a spot on the lush, tree-covered patio. 2852 N. Southport Ave.; 773-404-5886, jacks404.com food available | outdoor seating

DUKE OF PERTH This convivial Lake View pub feels so genuine we half expected our waiter to deliver a peat-thick Scottish burr (alas, no). Dozens of single-malt Scotches, ranging from $7 to $80 a shot, make for ample consolation. The front barroom is the best place to enjoy fish and chips along with a wee dram—or three. 2913 N. Clark St.; 773-477-1741, dukeofperth.com food available | outdoor seating

GUTHRIES TAVERN Only a few blocks from the sports-bar ghetto surrounding Wrigley Field, this homey, popular spot attracts folks who want to play games rather than watch them on TV. Order up a microbrew and choose a trivia game or childhood rainy-day staple (Clue, Battleship, Yahtzee). Then while away the hours—just arrive before 9 p.m. on weekends to snag a table. 1300 W. Addison St.; 773-477-2900 food available

THE LONG ROOM A spot as welcomingly simple as its name, where the bar stretches nearly the length of the narrow space and features a fine selection of microbrews and cheap cans. A laid-back, retro feel—note the old-school Schlitz swag and the vintage photo booth—cool tunes, and the slightly off-the-beaten-path location attract Lake View hipsters and a somewhat older crowd. 1612 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-665-4500, longroomchicago.com outdoor seating | live music (Sun.)

MINIBAR ULTRA LOUNGE & CAFÉ At one of the hippest gay bars in Boystown, modelesque bartenders mix potent libations and dispense carafes of wine; servers deliver small plates, including ten kinds of bruschetta; and well-groomed patrons stand and pose or spill onto the newly installed dance floor. Even the bathrooms are chic. 3341 N. Halsted St.; 773-871-6227, minibarchicago.com food available | dj

SCARLET You’d never know a fire devastated Scarlet last February by looking at the refurbished space, with its lush crimson drapes, gorgeous stained glass, and upholstered settees. Crowds flock to theme nights and liquid Sunday brunch. For a glimpse of early-20th-century gay Chicago, pop in for First Ward Ball revivals on Fridays. 3320 N. Halsted St.; 773-348-1053, scarletbarchicago.com dj

SHEFFIELD’S The slogan: “Great beer, great beer garden, and some pretty darn good barbeque.” True, true, and yer darn tootin’. This corner tavern offers a dizzying 200 bottled beers and 30 craft brews on tap. The spacious, tree-shaded patio blows all others away. And the menu? The owner, Ric Hess (Silver Cloud), has brought comfort food to Lake View and to a second location in River Grove. 3258 N. Sheffield Ave., 773-281-4989; 3131 N. Thatcher Ave., River Grove, 708-452-3131; sheffieldschicago.com food available | outdoor seating

SIDETRACK Multiple spaces on several levels, potent frozen slushies, sing-along show-tune nights, and a sprawling rooftop garden: For nearly 30 years, this grande dame of gay bars has reigned over the Halsted strip, providing a home away from home for a cross section of Chicago’s gay community. 3349 N. Halsted St.; 773-477-9189, sidetrackchicago.com outdoor seating | dj

SMART BAR One of the first clubs to play house music in the early eighties (and one of the few still doing it), this dark, subterranean dance lair remains a destination for people who want to shake the night away to house, techno, dubstep, and other styles spun by resident and touring DJs. The crowd on the spacious dance floor is diverse yet united in carefree movement to the throbbing beat. 3730 N. Clark St.; 773-549-0203, smartbarchicago.com open late | cover charge | dj

TEN CAT With its forties-era Art Deco back bar, vintage Brunswick pool tables, and old-school blues and jazz on the juke, this relaxed neighborhood joint feels like a place out of time—and that’s a mighty good thing. Regulars bring their own pool cues—or their dogs. No trendy cocktail menus or pretense here; Ten Cat is one of those spots that’s cool because it doesn’t try to be. 3931 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-935-5377 outdoor seating

WANG’S This cramped, exotic, dimly lit lounge (connected to Wakamono Sushi Bar next door) is like a portal to the Orient, no passport required. Carved dragons adorning red-lacquered pillars, wood lattice window panels, red fabric lanterns, and black wallpaper with a white floral motif conjure up old Shanghai—set to a hip soundtrack. Boys from Boystown and couples on dates compete for the few available tables while enjoying light snacks and Asian-themed martinis (most $10). 3317 N. Broadway; 773-296-6800 food available | dj

UPTOWN

BAR ON BUENA Neighborhood bars don’t get much better than this popular Buena Park spot. The room has the look (exposed brick walls, well-worn furniture, wood finishes) and attitude of a mellow coffeehouse, but the addition of a few TVs takes some of the bohemian edge off. Other draws: a café-style seasonal menu, and beer and whiskey flights, arranged by region and style. 910 W. Buena Ave.; 773-525-8665, baronbuena.com food available | outdoor seating | live music (Sun.)

BIG CHICKS For more than 20 years, the lovable owner, Michelle Fire, has played den mother to her loyal gays, rewarding the boys and girls with drink specials, free Sunday afternoon buffets, and a well-worn playroom adorned with Fire’s eclectic art collection. Dancing breaks out on weekends, and the fenced-in backyard patio is a great place to share pitchers after a summertime beach romp. 5024 N. Sheridan Rd.; 773-728-5511, bigchicks.com food available | outdoor seating | dj

CREW BAR & GRILL Since opening in 2004, this gay sports bar has helped give a new face to Uptown, packing in fans to watch games on the 16 TVs and indulge in hearty bites and craft beers. The occasional jockstrap contest can draw a crowd—this is a gay bar, after all. (After the games, get down to house grooves at Crew’s sister bar, Wild Pug, a few doors away—or simply warm up by the cozy fireplace there.) 4804 N. Broadway; 773-784-2739, worldsgreatestbar.com food available | outdoor seating | dj

GREEN MILL JAZZ CLUB A former roadhouse and mobster hangout, the century-old Green Mill may have the best pedigree of any bar in the city. But that’s not the only reason we love this live-jazz mecca with its Art Deco atmosphere. The Mill feels like an occasion—think New Year’s Eve year-round—and the crowd often has an infectious energy. Next thing we know, it’s 5 a.m. 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552, greenmilljazz.com open late | cover charge | live music

ROSCOE VILLAGE

FOUR MOON TAVERN Bars with food this good aren’t found on every block. Bars with good food served until midnight on weeknights and 1 a.m. on weekends, when meat loaf and grilled cheese taste like salvation, are even rarer. The clincher is Four Moon’s atmosphere: chill, grown-up, familiar—the bartenders can make any visitor instantly feel like a regular. Ask for Sparky. 1847 W. Roscoe St.; 773-929-6666, fourmoontavern.com food available | outdoor seating

HUNGRY BRAIN Sporting mismatched secondhand furniture and weird free jazz on Sundays, Hungry Brain is a bar in hipster-coffeehouse clothing. Good beer, retro video games, a small beer garden, and a conspicuous absence of TVs conjure the spirit of that guy you knew in college who got Cs but introduced you to Godard, Napster, and absinthe. 2319 W. Belmont Ave. outdoor seating | live music | dj

VILLAGE TAP More than the all-season beer garden or the above-average food or even the photo booth, the reason to visit this neighborhood spot is two dozen–plus high-quality beers on tap. You know a place is committed to good beer when it doesn’t waste a handle on Bud. 2055 W. Roscoe St.; 773-883-0817, thevillagetap.com food available | outdoor seating

NORTH CENTER / LINCOLN SQUARE / RAVENSWOOD

BIG JOE’S There’s plenty to love about this quintessential neighborhood bar (think humble brick building on the corner, wood paneling, pool and darts, friendly crowd). But our favorite night is Friday, when regulars and yupsters convene for the turtle races (yes, turtle races). Don’t fret if you can’t snag a spot near the action; the race—announced by a droll, portly commentator—is televised on four big-screen TVs. 1818 W. Foster Ave.; 773-784-8755 outdoor seating | live music

BLUE STEM MARTINI LOUNGE More an experience than a bar—and more a bar than a lounge. Lefko, the gregarious one-named owner/tender, spends months inventing fruity martinis with minimal sugary aftertaste ($11-$16) and loves to talk about them. Let her. She’s a personality, and while her drink formula sounds like a euphemism for a light pour, it’s not. Two pear martinis later, we can attest to their potent, if pricey, appeal. 1935 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-880-8470 food available

THE GLOBE PUB Expats and Yanks alike flock to this Brit pub to catch European soccer, especially English Premier League games. (Bonus: The Chicago Fire has designated the Globe its home bar for watching the team’s away games.) The food is straight sports bar, but the beer selection shines, with excellent American craft beers, English ales, and German pilsners. 1934 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-871-3757, theglobepub.com food available

THE GRAFTON Named after a Dublin thoroughfare and offering a good selection of Irish beers and whiskeys—as well as open sessions of Irish music on Sundays—this Lincoln Square pub transcends its Old-World roots with additional European and American beers, an eclectic clientele (some of it spilling over from the Old Town School of Folk Music next door), and an endless stream of lively conversation, all in a distinctive Chicago accent. 4530 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-271-9000, thegrafton.com food available | outdoor seating | live music

HUETTENBAR Reflecting the neighborhood’s German heritage, this small, woodsy Schenke offers primarily German and Austrian beers, as well as a convivial setting in which to quaff them. A diverse group of drinkers—laborers, hipsters, and white-collar workers—can crowd the place, especially on weekends, but snare a seat up front in summer when the windows are thrown open, and Gemütlichkeit prevails. 4721 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-561-2507

LEADWAY A quiet corner pub enlivened by its quirky décor—abstract avian sculptures dangle from the ceiling; bursts of colorful tile spread scattershot around the room; the front end of a vintage Chevy (license plate: ELVIS 1) plows through a brick wall—this Ravenswood hideaway is a great place to gather with friends, albeit friends charmed by the occasional outbreak of offbeat music. Hillbilly hootenanny, anyone? 5233 N. Damen Ave.; 773-728-2663 food available | outdoor seating | live music (occasionally)

TINY LOUNGE Chic, sexy, and chill, this laid-back lounge—which reemerged last January, three years after the previous location closed due to Brown Line construction—combines live music, elegant craft cocktails, an eclectic and phenomenal beer list, and wines from unexpected locales such as Lebanon. Toss in inventive small plates, floor-to-ceiling windows, beautiful hand-laid wood throughout, and an intimate sidewalk patio, and you have not just a great neighborhood spot but a destination. 4352 N. Leavitt St.; 773-463-0396, tinylounge.com food available | outdoor seating | live music | dj

EDGEWATER / ANDERSONVILLE

THE EDGEWATER LOUNGE This neighborhood bar is so low-key you might drive right by its faded sign and nondescript facade. The interior is similarly underwhelming: Just try getting your barstool not to wobble on the peeling linoleum floor. But the charm shines through: on-the-ball service, $5 pints of nice domestic microbrews, an above-average bar menu, live music (bluegrass on Tuesday, gypsy jazz on Sunday), authentic regulars, and zero attitude. 5600 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-878-3343, edgewaterlounge.com food available | outdoor seating | live music

HOPLEAF BAR Hopleaf has become a victim of its own success: This Belgium-loving gastrotavern in Andersonville is clamorous and packed during prime time—thus susceptible to gripes about slow service and curt bartenders. We don’t care. Nothing can diminish our enthusiasm for the dozens of exquisite draft lines or the overachieving kitchen that believes we’re all better off drinking beer with stuffed pheasant thighs. We simply arrive early—and stay. 5148 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9851, hopleaf.com food available | outdoor seating

IN FINE SPIRITS At this sophisticated Andersonville wine bar, the well-appointed list of varietals and blends is dynamic; the cocktails, many crafted with artisanal spirits, are classic; and the small plates will sate any late-night hunger. An absinthe fountain appeals to the adventurous, as do the hand-pumped cask ales. And the back patio? A perfect summertime escape. 5420 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9463, infinespirits.com food available | outdoor seating

MARTY’S MARTINI BAR When a bar gives you the option of a regular or a large martini, you know you’re in luck. With its Toulouse-Lautrec–inspired vibe, dark woods, vested bartenders, and romantic garden, you’ll always feel welcome in this decadent yet cozy boîte—even if you order a beer. 1511 W. Balmoral Ave.; 773-561-6425, martysmartinibar.com outdoor seating

ROGERS PARK

RED LINE TAP This charmingly scruffy dive echoes the vibe of the el line it flanks. A laid-back neighborhood crowd drinks cheap beers over Galaga, watches their cool indie friends play on a tiny stage, and scrawls crea­tive bathroom graffiti. The beer list is better than you’d expect; so is the Abe Lincoln portrait over the pool table. Bonus points for live-band heavy-metal nights. 7006 N. Glenwood Ave.; 773-274-5463, heartlandcafe.com food available | live music